Steward and the King, The
18. The March to the Black Gate
As preparations were begun, work on the Pelennor continued. The fallen were buried in low mounds, enemy remains and siege camps burned, and battle damage cleared away or repairs begun. A small shield was brought to Theoden, found near to where Gandalf had battled the Nazgul. It was Merry's, that Eowyn had chosen for him. Theoden, still in the Houses of Healing, asked if the holbytla Peregrin might attend him, and put the shield into his keeping.
Boromir heard of the request, and so met Pippin there, for he did not want Denethor to know. He encouraged Pippin to speak of his friend, and when he seemed emptied of words for a time, Boromir spoke on another matter.
"There was a seeing stone in the tower of Isengard," Boromir said quietly. "Thorongil has possession of it now."
Pippin shifted in his seat, looking guilty.
"There is also, I believe, one of these stones in tower of guard," Boromir continued. "My father won't admit it plain, but there have been rumors."
"I shouldn't talk of this," Pippin muttered in a strained voice. "Gandalf told me, put it out of my mind."
"He did not know then of what my father might have done. The servants have told me the Steward will often climb up to the highest room of the tower, and they speak of a green fire that seems to flash in the windows. I have been away fighting and guarding our borders, but these rumors concerned me. Much more so now."
Pippin started to shake and his eyes unfocused. "No. It wasn't a green light. It was fire, dark and horrible -- "
"That must be what it is from the inside. You have to stop him, if he tries."
"How can I?" He shrank away.
"Though he will not say what he has agreed to, he gave us grudging promise that he would forebear. Remind him of that promise."
"Make him tell you where it is and hide it!"
"If anyone come that close to move it, knowing the reason why it must be done, Sauron could learn the reason -- we dare not risk that."
On the day before the host would leave, two days after the battle on the Pelennor, Denethor came to Boromir in private, wanting him to stay in the city.
"Father, I do not know this man to be an enemy to me. We would have fallen if the ships had not come. His victory at Pelargir could not have been achieved save his attack on Umbar, forty years ago, which you thought could not succeed."
"He gives the ring back to Sauron."
"We ride to keep Sauron's eyes outward."
"It was folly to throw that weapon away. Soon he will devour us. I need you here, I need your men here, to fight the Enemy -- here -- that we might be free a time longer. You throw your lives away."
"What are a handful of days against despair? Is that all you can offer us? If we are all for death I will ride to battle, not hide in the dark, asking for one more day. Elessar has shown me a hope, and I chose to follow that. If we must die that others may live free, so be it."
"You will obey me."
"No." Their eyes locked, and Boromir stood defiant, as if to say, I threw you down once and I will do so again if you dare try to force me.
Denethor said no word further, and the heart of each became hardened against the other, and those were the last words spoken between them. In this manner Boromir took command of the city, though Denethor still held the staff.
Walking through the court of the dead tree, Boromir heard a tower guard, Beregond, explaining in awed tones to Bergil, his son, of the white tree and Elessar's banner.
"A word Beregond ... For love of my brother, I would give you a task that might test your oath. Denethor is ill-pleased."
The guard said carefully, "You have quarreled."
"He curses and thinks to disown me." Beregond's eyes widened, but Boromir only laughed. "I care not. A father's love is his to withdraw, but I do not accept that he may withdraw my inheritance, which I have already taken.
"I have given orders to Hurin, who commands the garrison remaining not to accept imprudent orders from the Steward that he might make in despair. He may, in anger, seek to do harm to what of mine I leave behind. I will only think worse of him. I want my brother's room as he left it, untouched."
Boromir locked eyes with the guard. In truth, his words were base slander and an injustice to Denethor, for in all his years the Steward had never lost control. Yet every man had his breaking point. He read Beregond's face as he contemplated and concluded the possibility. Boromir saw what he wanted there - the guard would not permit it, though it come to blows. The threat would probably be enough to prevent. Boromir grunted, satisfied.
Beregond swallowed. "My lord," he forced the words out. "Mayhap Lady Eowyn --"
"Yes, yes." Boromir nodded his thanks. "I should choose her a token. She and Pippin have leave to enter briefly, and others who grieve. His men loved him. I fear neither of us may return; I would have my brother remembered with honor."
Denethor sat on the steward's chair in the throne room, and no one entered and he spoke no word. When dusk came he sent Pippin away.
He ran down to the tents, looking to say goodbye to Strider, but he found Boromir instead, and they talked long into the night.
In the morning Boromir took his leave of Eowyn, giving her the token he had chosen. "Faramir treasured this, as he treasures your love."
She turned the flat shard over in her hand. A few inches square. The smooth side was covered with a blue glaze the color of the sky an hour before twilight. On one edge it faded into green. "What is this?" she asked, puzzled.
" 'What is now broken,' he told me, 'can be built again'," Boromir answered. "He was fourteen years. I was training in Osgiliath and our uncle brought him for a visit. As our father was not there to mock his fancies he crawled and poked everywhere in the ruins, comparing what was there to the old buildings in the citadel that have been kept in repair. In the center of Osgiliath was the broken dome of the throne room, where the seats of Isildur and Anarion were side by side. He tried to build in his mind the picture of what it once was and asked us many questions. He dug that shard out of the dust, he thinks it came from the tiled walls, and said it might be part of an art treasure saved from Numenor. Our uncle, charitably, allowed that was unlikely. Faramir said the possibility was wonder enough, and gave it a special niche in his desk. In later years I would sometimes find him turning it in his hands, as you do now, wishing for better days."
He promised he would look for Faramir and bring her news. She held his hand long as he sat next to her in the Houses of Healing, unsure what to say. There seemed so little hope; on so thin a thread he would risk so much.
The host mustered march to the gate of Sauron's reign. Eomer, Boromir and Imrahil each lead their army, and each had their banner, white horse, uncharged white, and silver swan. At the head rode Aragorn and the Dunedain, flying the white tree. There was a long pause at the river Anduin, for the host had to ferry across. Standing on the East bank of the river, Boromir mused why Thorongil had, as yet, said no word. He wanted me to stay, I said I would. Then, in front of all, I broke that promise.
"I'm sorry," he said quietly, the next time he walked by.
"We have both followed our hearts," Aragorn answered, "as did Faramir when he spoke to Eowyn. Perhaps your father will as well."
"Only if we die," Boromir replied, and shrugged. He then looked around to see if his uncle was close enough to have heard that. Aragorn wasn't sure what the backward glance was about, and didn't ask.
When they camped, Boromir asked Aragorn for stories of Faramir. Imrahil was there also, for he was kin. At first, Aragorn did not know what to say, for what was strongest in his memory was Faramir claiming the task of guarding the quest. Into Morder. Is that a thing for speech before sleep, to speak of such a place? We are in the shadow of those same mountains. But there were other memories to speak of, he realized. Stories from the walk in Hollin and the stay in Lorien -- though Faramir found less peace there than the rest. On the river, even before he had Aragorn's agreement to lead the Eastern party, he had turned to Galadriel's book reading it before sleep during a day's rest then chanted long passages from it, from memory, to Frodo as he paddled, trying to make a Westron translation that did not over mar the original. Both brother and uncle smiled at that.
The next day, Boromir was staring at Thorongil's banner as they rode slowly on, men marching behind. It was not the first time. He saw that Thorongil saw where he looked, but said nothing. Back in the tent outside the city's walls, when Thorongil had asked for captains to ride with him to battle, he had asked, not claimed the right to make orders.
He had spoken not of crowns nor rule, though he called himself Isildur's heir. "Isildur's heir" he said, "must right Isildur's wrong." Denethor had hissed, brief and quietly, when Thorongil had said that. Had Father lied? Had Thorongil lied? Did they both speak the truth as they knew it? Boromir considered the meeting in Henneth Annun. Faramir spoke of the elf, Elrond. Elrond was here at the last war. Elrond knew Isildur, would Elrond lie? If we all will die in this battle, what does it matter? He thought of Denethor and the other men that stayed behind to guard. I want my city to live.
They marched. Depending on the weather and conditions and enemy action, in council they estimated it would be five to seven days before they made their last camp a short march to muster before the gate. A single person or small group would travel more quickly, but so long as they did not hesitate there was no reason to hurry. Would Sauron allow them to complete their march, or would they be cut down before? Scouts sent ahead encountered no evidence of heavy movement. Behind the black gates a great force could be mustered and sent out with greatest ease, so better to let his prize come to Him under their own power. And all were assaulted by doubt and fear of the dark and brooding mountains, for those who pretended to have confidence by reason of their powerful weapon, had no such power in their possession, and those they lead were close enough to perceive their wariness.
There had been a small ambush easily countered near Hennuth Annun. It was the opinion of Elessar and Eomer that it was a mere feint, to encourage the captains to think the Enemy weak, and so continue into the waiting trap. They made camp only a short distance further, and before rest Boromir stood in silence, joined by the Ithilien rangers that still survived. Boromir stared up at the looming mountains. Your promise, brother.
== end chapter ==
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